Why Zoe Saldana Regrets Playing Nina Simone In Controversial Biopic

Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in 2016 biopic
(Image credit: (RLJ Entertainment))

With Hollywood taking a more critical eye at its depiction of the Black community in recent years, many actors and filmmakers have been reflecting on their past decisions. The casting choice of Dominican and Puerto Rican actress Zoe Saldana in the poorly-received 2016 Nina Simone biopic has been a subject of controversy for almost a decade. In order to embody the famous singer and activist, the Marvel actress wore skin-darkening makeup and a prosthetic nose.

While having a poignant conversation with Pose creator Steven Canals about their Afro-Latinx identities, Zoe Saldana addressed Nina by sharing her regret about the choice. In her words:

I should have never played Nina. I should have done everything in my power, with the leverage that I had ten years ago, which was a different leverage but it was leverage nonetheless, I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman. It’s growing. It’s painful. I thought back then that I had the permission, because I was a Black woman. And I am. But it was Nina Simone.

Zoe Saldana broke down in tears as she confronted the controversy, adding that the music icon “deserved better” and still does. The actress is clearly a huge fan of Nina Simone and wanted to do her justice when she replaced Mary J. Blige in 2012. As Saldana explained to Steven Canals during their Instagram chat, she now understands that the soul artist should be honored “to the most specific detail.”

The actress shared hope for Nina Simone to be given another chance to shine on film in the future, asking that someone else “step up” and do her justice. Back when Zoe Saldana was cast as the singer, the family’s estate rejected the film and Simone’s daughter Lisa shared her uneasiness about the casting with these words:

I love Zoe Saldana, we all love Zoe... From Avatar to Colombiana, I've seen those movies a few times. But not every project is for everybody. And I know what my mother would think. I just don't get it.

At the time, Saldana defended her decision to star in Nina, comparing the role to Elizabeth Taylor taking on Cleopatra's eponymous Egyptian queen. The actress has different thoughts today as you can see her entire conversation below:

A photo posted by on

Nina followed the singer in the later years of her career, at a time when she was facing financial struggles, alcohol abuse and her bipolar disorder at a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital. The film was written and directed by Cynthia Mort and also starred David Oyelowo, who was a producer on the film as well. Zoe Saldana is certainly one of the most influential actresses of color working today, and back when Nina was in development, she was working hard on the Star Trek franchise, along with starring in a slew of action flicks.

Nina was given a staggering 2 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and its controversy contributed to its massive box office bomb. Years later, it’s great to see the film opening up a larger conversation on Black representation on film. Stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more movie news.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.